Writing Center helps students conquer fears
The flood hasn’t started yet, but a trickle of students to the ASU Writing Center on the Tempe campus has become a steady flow. Toward the end of the semester, it will become a torrent, as students who are working on papers for their classes discover they need help.
In the most desperate cases, they face a deadline and haven’t written a word. Frozen with fear, they feel unable to get started. These are the “reluctant writers,” says Jeanne Simpson, director of the Writing Center who says her tutors are trained to help.
“There’s an emotional element,” she says. “It happens more frequently than you would think. We have to find out where the fear comes from, and come up with strategies to reframe the assignment. Tutoring is a very complex business. Tutors have to be good listeners and fast thinkers, able to be quiet and step back to analyze a situation.”
Last semester about 20 tutors, all of whom are students, conducted more than 2,200 tutorials with almost 1,100 students. All the tutors have received rigorous training, with several hours of classwork and two additional days of intense immersion and role-playing. They are at least sophomores, and several are graduate students.
The central location of the Writing Center has been a boon, since it was moved last fall to the Undergraduate Academic Services Building just across the street from the Memorial Union.
Students find out about the free service from presentations the staff makes in their classrooms, or from their professors. Many come in early in the semester, when they first get a writing assignment.
About 40 percent of those who sign up for the individual half-hour sessions are freshmen. Among the rest are upperclassmen who lack confidence or need a boost, international students, and good writers who want feedback and ideas. Students can get help at any stage of the writing process, for any assignment, even a research paper.
“We work with a writer at any level,” Simpson says. “We have a staff of experienced, knowledgeable tutors who like what they do and are eager to help. All a student has to do is walk in the door, and we’ll take it from there.
“It’s so rewarding for me to watch the students connect and teach each other. We see assignments from all over the university and get a sense of what professors are looking for. We also find out what issues students are reacting to, and what their aspirations are. It’s the most fun job to have. I love this work.”
Simpson, who came to the Tempe campus last summer, established the Writing Center at Eastern Illinois University and has been involved in writing centers for 30 years. They have been shown to increase student retention and success effectively, so almost all colleges and universities have them.
ASU’s Writing Center has been operating at the Tempe campus for many years, one of many academic success programs that are free to students to help them make the most of their classroom experience. Students can call (480) 965-4272 for an appointment.